Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Buried Gems

What’s the quip ? Making laws is like making sausage ? Maybe so but there’s some interesting gems buried in all that ground up meat. Speaking of ground up meat, I wonder how the FAA’s feeling about right now ?

This is from a Senate Report (No. 110-131) Don’t ask me what that means. (I was the safety guy, not the legislative guy.) I just know what it says.


The Committee recommends $6,964,813,000 for the Air Traffic Organization to operate and maintain the national air traffic control system. The recommended level is equal to the budget estimate, and equal to the fiscal year 2007 enacted level. The Committee is confident that the recommended funding level is sufficient to continue safe and efficient management of the National Airspace System [NAS].

Air Traffic Controller Contract- Last year, after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract through the collective bargaining process, the Administrator used questionable statutory authority to impose a new pay structure and work rules on the air traffic controller workforce. Several issues regarding the imposition of these terms are unresolved and tension between the controllers and FAA management remains at its worst point since the PATCO strike. The Committee believes that the current tenor of labor-management relations at the agency is not at all in the best interest of the FAA safety mission and the ability of the agency to tackle its most vexing challenges. As such, the Committee expects the Administrator to work aggressively to resolve the conflict over the controller's contract immediately.

Air Traffic Controller Staffing- The bill includes a provision that requires the FAA to submit to Congress its annual air traffic controller workforce plan by March 31 of each year. The original controller workforce plan was submitted to Congress in December 2004. Although the agency promised that the plan would be updated annually, the Committee had to wait until June 2006 before receiving any update to that plan. Since that time, the Committee has not received the 2007 update. The Committee directs the FAA to submit its 2007 plan immediately. The Committee also directs the FAA to include in each update to the controller workforce plan annual information on the total number of air traffic controllers that the agency projects for its workforce in addition to providing the estimated losses and planned hires to the controller workforce. Under the terms of the provision in the bill, the agency's budget will be effectively fined for each day after March 31 that the report is not submitted.

The Committee believes that a fully staffed controller workforce is critical to maintaining the safety of the air transportation system. However, the Committee is concerned that the FAA will not be able to reach its staffing goals for the current fiscal year, placing the goals for fiscal year 2008 in further jeopardy. As illustrated by the table below, the FAA expected to lose 1,197 air traffic controllers this year, and it hopes to hire 1,386 controllers in order fill those vacancies and increase its total staff level to 14,807. However, a little over halfway through fiscal year 2007, the FAA had already lost 900 controllers, or 75 percent of the total number of controller losses that the agency had projected for the entire year. The FAA also underestimated the number of controller losses to the workforce for both fiscal years 2005 and 2006. If controller losses continue to occur at this rate, the FAA will have to hire a total of 1,732 controllers this year in order to meet its workforce goal. That hiring total is 346 more controllers than the FAA had planned to hire before the end of the fiscal year. While the agency insists that it can still meet its end-of-year on-board strength goal for this year, the Committee will continue to monitor this situation carefully. The safety of our skies makes it essential that the FAA's hard hiring targets be viewed as a mandate on the agency, not as some amorphous goal that can slip from year to year.

(emphasis added)

Don Brown
July 18, 2007

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